Most of us will have to engage in public speaking at some point in our lives, be it for work, school, or a wedding. But while some people take to the stage naturally, others find the concept of speaking in front of people cripplingly frightening. Speech-Language Therapy is usually thought of in the context of speech impediments, such as stuttering, but some of the techniques used can also help address the fear of public speaking. Here, we will outline just how SLT can help.
In the past, it was pretty much a given that the people you were talking to would be able to understand your accent, because they probably had the same one. But in today’s increasingly globalised world, we’re seeing a much wider array of accents than ever before. This can be problematic for certain people, particularly if the crowd being addressed is very diverse or international. SLT can help you identify the thickest parts of your accent and neutralise them when needs be, making it much easier for people of different backgrounds to understand you. Conor McGregor is a famous example of a celebrity who has had to adjust their accent for an international audience, and has had plenty of success doing so.
There is a lot more to SLT than just learning how to enunciate. Interaction and non-verbal communication are also major aspects of SLT, and both are key to public speaking. By working with a therapist, you can become more in-tune with your body language, which is essential in setting the tone and controlling the impression you give. Whether it’s how you stand, what you do with your hands, or how much eye contact you make, your therapist will monitor you and identify any points that need work. In public speaking, your energy and demeanour are just as influential as your words, so the impact of this should not be underestimated.
Apart from your accent, there are plenty of other aspects to your vocalisation that may need work. If you are a naturally soft speaker, your therapist may want to teach you how to harvest the power of your diaphragm to help your voice resonate across a crowded room. Pace is another common problem among people who fear public speaking. Some struggle to get through their words seamlessly, others rush too fast, and some do both. Whatever the issue you face personally, your therapist can identify it and teach you to counteract it with counting techniques. Breathing techniques are also very useful in treating this issue, as you can prevent yourself from being caught out of breath, and even use your breathing as a sort of speech-metronome.
Of course, the biggest aspect of the fear of public speaking is fear itself, and the only way to truly overcome fear is to confront it. SLT may involve giving speeches to family, friends, and small groups of strangers. It will also involve identifying what it is about the speech that scares you. The approach for a person who is afraid of stumbling will be quiet different to the one taken to treat a patient afraid of being criticised for what they say.
The techniques mentioned above will all help deal with the element of fear by giving you more confidence. If you know people will be able to understand your accent and how you should be moving, this takes some pressure off, and even distracts your mind. The breathing techniques will also help regulate chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol, which are responsible for stress. Remember that Speech-Language Therapy is exactly that: therapy. It will take time, work, and study, but therapy is a great approach to take to deal with almost any problem.